Stay warm and dry via Chicago pedways

About two weekends ago, yours truly was playing in autumn leaves on a sunny day so warm, no jacket was required. But since then, as usually happens in Chicago, we basically skipped temperatures in the 60’s or 50’s and dove straight down to the 40’s and 30’s — and at night, even dipping into the 20’s!

From bikeways to pedways, it’s good to know that the city of Chicago provides many ways for its citizens and visitors to get around comfortably. The pedway system is most popular in the winter, but also handy on those unbearably hot sweltering days of summer as well as during precipitation or high winds.

When it turns cold, the heated pedways become flooded with pedestrians. The pedway is a labyrinth of mostly underground hallways and tunnels plus some sky bridges. Using pedways and cutting through buildings to escape the harsh weather is the savvy way to get around.

There are several buildings downtown that are a block long, one right after the other in some areas (like in the south LaSalle Street business district). Explore a bit as you traverse the city on foot; find out which ones you can cut through to do part of your commute indoors to escape the elements. Be aware, however, that your chance of utilizing these routes is drastically reduced as 6:00 p.m. approaches when many buildings close their thoroughfares.

However, if you’re walking along State Street or one of the shopping districts, there are several department stores and malls one can cross through going any direction. You might even get some shopping done if something catches your eye as you pass through. Hotels are also good for ducking out of the elements and snaking through indoors, sometimes even shaving off two blocks’ walk in nasty weather.

But the pedways are really where it’s at, and there are several of them running like an intricate maze under the city as well as above the city.

In the 203 North LaSalle Street building, not only is there the CTA train system with underground walkways to connect with trains shooting out from the city in all directions, but on the second floor, there is an indoor pathway through several buildings all the way to State Street. Take the escalators to the second floor, walk east, and you’ll soon find yourself in a catwalk. You will go up and down stairways at times as you wind your way through the buildings lining Lake Street, finally crossing through the back hallway of the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel with ATM’s, shops, and places to eat before emerging on the corner of either State and Lake, or if you enter the hotel and jut through the lobby, State and Wacker. Obviously the same route can be taken in reverse.

Pedway Swimming Pool-Health Club
Swimming pool off the pedway

But the really long and amazing pedway is one that goes all the way from some of the residential buildings on the south bank of the Chicago River east of Michigan Avenue all the way to City Hall — or if you prefer, you can turn south in the pedway, heading into the center of the Loop, emerging on an escalator in the Three First National Plaza building, across Madison Street from Chase Tower (bank), where you can also cut through.

There’s more than one train depot in this pedway where you can stop to shop, eat, grab a cocktail, even swim at an underground pool! This amazing pedway gives you access to the Michigan Plaza on North Michigan Avenue, with its awesome array of businesses, eateries, stores, services and salons. It also takes you to the Cultural Center, then on past LA Fitness to Macy’s, then to the eating spots and shops at Block 37 and on to various municipal and office buildings including the Illinois Center. Mentioned here are just a handful of the buildings you can get to via the pedway.

Insider tip: While you’re in the pedway, you are indoors. Take off your hat and gloves, unbutton your coat and loosen your scarf. If not, you’ll find yourself sweating, which is not a healthy way to exit the pedway back into the cold on the other end.

Exploring the pedway on your own can feel like an adventure, but it can also be a bit daunting if it’s new to you. Just like the street above, people are scurrying along — especially those catching trains — plus there are some less populated sections with almost a seedy feel where someone may ask you for money.

If you want to become a pedway pro, try a pedway tour. There are several, most costing about $20 or $25, and they’re easy to find on the Internet. Wear your walking shoes and outerwear that’s not too bulky to carry, because the tours last an hour or more — that’s because the Chicago pedways are so amazing! On tour, you’ll learn some Chicago history that will fascinate and amuse while you learn to navigate the underground matrix.


Find your voice…and use it!

Chicago Ideas Week’s 2017 “Finding Your Voice with VOXX and Queens Brunch” lab was geared toward women, but men can use these techniques too, because we all need to find our voice and speak up. To not do so is stifling.

Every women has a voice, but women aren’t always encouraged to use their voices (and are sometimes even discouraged from speaking), so not all women are used to sharing their voices. And it’s hard to use your voice if you don’t even know your voice. This workshop and what I will share with you here will assist you in finding and utilizing your voice. Once you do, things should start to look up in your life.

The workshop started out when we were asked to do a couple of small exercises. The first, although so quick and simple, felt extremely liberating: We wrote down on a piece of paper something we wanted to expel. Then we crumpled it up and threw it away. Next, we were asked to stand up and shake various body parts to loosen up, something we should do any time we feel tight/stressed. That of course felt good too.

The organizations VOXX and Queens Brunch were described and a bit about each group’s founders (Lisa Sorich and Rosetta Lane of VOXX and Shayna Atkins of Queens Brunch).  VOXX is about bringing women together to give them the chance to share their voices. Queens Brunch is an organization that brings women together to find their voices over brunch. A practice at VOXX is two women sitting on a couch sharing what they have learned.


Kari McGrath and Torri Shaaron were invited to come up to the stage and make themselves comfortable on the couch. What followed was a conversation between them that was very frank and open, thought-provoking, inspirationally stimulating and potentially life-altering to those in the audience who needed to hear these women’s stories so we too could find our voices.

McGrath said she had been feeling “like a bird in a cage” who couldn’t find her song. She described this feeling as energy-draining, especially as she was the type of person who really invested herself and “gave 110 percent.” When she was let go from her job, it felt like she was set free out of the cage. She described this as a beautiful shift. Subsequently she got into coaching and built a business helping others to “show up.“

Tidbits of McGrath’s wise advice:
We each have a story. Write your story the way you want it to be.
Follow other story tellers because it’s helpful to learn that somebody else has a similar story.
We have several characters living within us. For instance, there can be chatter in our heads that tries to discourage us, makes us doubting whether we are good enough, whether we should even try to do something amazing. Ignore all that; hear a different voice!
Get rid of preconceived notions; let go of what you think it should be like. Throw all that away. One concept to throw away, for instance, is that of “perfect timing.” Don’t wait for that!
When what you are doing comes from your passion, it makes sense and it all falls into place.

Shaaron quit her job in engineering, and although still not employed, she now has her voice. She believes in disruption: Speaking up and challenging the norm, throwing away the rule book. When she does re-enter the workforce, she knows she “wants to work only with nice people.”

Some of Shaaron’s words of wisdom:
Sometimes you don’t know what “there” looks like much less how to get from here to there…but you know you have got to get there. Her motto is “Just start.”
Sometimes you voice is challenged and you have to stretch our of your comfort zone. The biggest challenge can be you own self-doubt. We all want to be liked and respected. Sometimes you need to stand up and speak out.
Important values: Respectful honesty, being kind, staying true to the mission.

Kari mentioned that our center is where our voice lives. So she had us get quite, comfortable  and close our eyes while she led us on three visualization journeys. Readers, try these feel-good confidence-boosters yourself:

  1. Think back to when you were at your best, the top of your game, confident, you were in the right place at the right time and things were going your way. How did that feel?
  2. If you had your own billboard, what would it say?
  3. Imagine yourself about to go on stage to make a presentation and a voice addresses you by name and says, “In the next few moments, when you get on stage, you will make an impact that affects everyone in the audience for the rest of their lives” What would you want that impact to be?

Next, we were given brief questionnaires to fill out. Readers, fill in the blanks for a better understanding of when your voice gets locked and how to unlock it:

  • When I am passionate, I sound like:
  • My voice gets small when:
  • What I want to say more of, more often is:
  • My voice is unlocked when:


After another similar fill-in-the-blanks exercise, a request was made that two folks from the audience volunteer to go to the couch and talk about how these exercises helped them. Here are some of the highlights of two one-on-one couch conversations that followed:

A strongly patriarchal upbringing can lead to an ongoing fear of authority.
Many of us have lost jobs; this led to the discovery that often it takes losing a job in order to find our voice. This is not unusual.
You can say you were “fired” or “let go.” The second way of looking at it is obviously more positive and, in fact, freeing.
We are all making it up as we go. So it’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I have to think about it.” And also to call on others for help or advice.
First things first: You have to “be there.” Being more present to one’s own heart, soul, gut will enable you to know exactly how you feel about a situation before you speak.
No matter what you’re going through, “You’re going to get through it.” Keep going.
Let your light shine — but also let the light in!

Atkins of Queens Brunch wrapped up by imparting some gems of wisdom:
When people network, most people seek to network up. But what is often overlooked: It’s very important to network across as well.
She feels most fervent when she knows she has a tribe at the end of her journey. Women, find your tribe or collect a tribe around you.
“You can start over. You can do anything!”

If statues could talk – Yo, they can!

When you are in Chicago and you come upon a monument, don’t you wish you could know more about the person being represented other than the brief explanation, if any, on the plaque? I’ve often wished I had the inside scoop on what their lives were all about. And there are also non-monument statues sprinkled all over Chicago, too, which I’ve often wondered about: Who was the artist and what was his or her life about? Whom were they depicting when they created the statue – is there some message inherent in the statue or was it simply commissioned for decoration?

Statue Stories Chicago now provides answers on many of our monuments and statues! And this is why I had a keen interest in attending the Chicago Ideas Week lab “Bring History to Life with Statue Stories.” Fortunately, this happened last week while the weather was still very pleasant, since part of this lab involved a walk to a nearby work of art (which happened to be the Cloud Gate a/k/a “the bean” in Millennium Park) for a listen.

Julia Bachrach introduced herself as a historian, preservationist and author who has written several books for the Chicago Park District for whom she is the historian and planning supervisor. She mentioned that for anyone who is interested, there is an archive of about 70,000 statues available at the Harold Washington Chicago Public Library.

Statue Stories took about four years to put into play and has been in place for three years, with more statue recordings coming; some of them are contests one can enter, even children – not just for statues, but for some of the dinosaurs and cows on display. Bachrach gave us a history of how Statue Stories came about and how it works. It’s very easy. You need a smart phone with the swipe (a/k/a scan) app on your phone. When you find a participating monument or statue (see Who’s Talking Where for an online index), you look for the tag code. Shortly after you swipe, your phone will ring. It will be the statue calling you to tell you about him/herself! There’s no charge for this, other than what you would normally be charged by your provider for a call.

Local writers, actors and celebrities wrote and recorded the statue monologues. One original requirement for a qualifying monument is that it have a face. But after it was discovered there’s a dearth of women’s monuments, some exceptions were made so there could be more female statues in the project. Some statues, like Bob Newhart at the tip of Navy Pier, are in popular locations and tell their stories often. Others are more far-flung.

Bachrach herself wrote the monologue for the Alexander von Humboldt monument in Humboldt Park to be recited not by von Humboldt himself, but by the lizard toward the base of the statue. She did this to represent his worldwide travels, and then it was recorded by Colombian-American actress Sandra Delgado; Bachrach felt the casting was perfect and that Delgado had done her monologue justice.

After Bachrach introduced Statue Stores, we watched a “Chicago at Play” video which started out, “One day, 30 statues came alive and started speaking.” Because of my love of Chicago and the monuments and statues I’ve happened upon over the years, I found this moving: Finally we could learn about these statues! As Chicago has one of the world’s most important collections of public art, this project gives even more of a sense of pride in Chicago, its history and the fascinating personalities who have been a part of that history.

After we all took a jaunt over to Cloud Gate and back, we got to create our own Cloud Gate compositions. Lead by MT Cozzola in coming up with our own monologues, Quraysh Ali Lansana in creating poems and social media guru Jessie Jury who taught us how to share effectively online,  it was another wonderful Chicago Ideas Week lab that was full of learning, first-hand experiences and creating,

As class wound down, we were asked if anyone wanted to read their piece aloud. One of the exercises was to write what the Cloud Gate might say if it recorded a voice mail message. Somehow I found my hand in the air volunteering to read mine: “Hi. This is Cloud Gate. I am always here, so come on by. I will welcome you in any season at any time of day or night. Let’s be friends.” Why did I add “Let’s be friends”? Because, Cloud Gate’s monologue sounds open and friendly — but you’ll just have to go and listen for yourself.


Make a difference: Raise your voice

The Chicago Ideas Week topic was “Journalism + You = Power,” a timely topic  in the current media environment where the term “fake news” is used a lot, yet this Chicago Ideas Week presentation went far beyond that trend, to where each individual can make a difference. In attendance were mostly writers and those in marketing and public relations, although this class would have been valuable to anyone who wonders what news they can believe anymore and what, if anything, they can do about it.

Although this Chicago Ideas Week lab was interactive, we soaked up much knowledge, wisdom and inspiration by listening attentively to our class instructor, Public Narrative’s president. I’ll admit when I volunteered for this writing assignment, I didn’t realize how deeply compelling the presentation would be.


Storytelling – News – Journalism
Storytelling: It’s a form of communication; we all do it. We tell stories for a reason; when a story is told, there’s an intent on the part of the storyteller. Journalists are the storytellers who tell the news. Journalists are accountable to very high standards, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and rightly so. Citizens have a right to news that is reported with the purest motives: To inform accurately.

A lot of what we read and hear now, although passed off as news on “news channels” and “news programs” is not really news. It’s often overlaid with the opinions and highly-charged emotions of the reporters. The expression “fake news” has been used a lot lately, yet it was pointed out the term doesn’t make sense and in fact is an oxymoron. In any case, it’s undesirable when the border between news and op-ed are blurred by those who report the news. It’s especially injurious when public alarm is caused — and we seem to be in a continuous state of this lately.

There are several different types of news. Basically, news is meant to tell something that happened, but it can also be informational, announcing something that is happening or is going to happen. How-to news is also informational.

An example of everyday observational was shown: A story of something that had happened, posted to Facebook, backed up by pictures and a video. Someone commented on the post explaining what had specifically happened on the train that caused the delay. The author of the story thanked her commenter and asked who she was and also looked her up on the internet. Turns out she was a spokesperson for the CTA, a trustworthy source. Now everyone who read this post knew what happened and why. That was news.

Credible Journalism
There are a few different types of news, and there’s non-news: Propaganda, opinion, advertising, entertainment (some of it true) and public relations – trying to pass themselves off as news. This includes infomercials that sometimes even look as if they’re on a legitimate news site, but most people now-a-days can spot marketing ploys that come disguised as news.

So how does one know if something they read or hear is actual news and not one of the above-mentioned foolers?  The first thing to ascertain is: What is the intent? Is it to inform, entertain, persuade? Beware of biases. Look at who the sponsors of the program are and who advertises on their show or site.

Also good to note is the news source. “News organizations that are more transparent are generally more credible.” In early times, newspapers were very slanted, depending on who owned them and their beliefs. It used to be that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times were strictly conservative or liberal as were the dedicated readers of each. Now, not so much anymore. But even newspapers tend to have some native advertising, so stay aware. After all, news is a business; it takes money to produce the news, and in order to stay afloat, ads are part of the business that make that possible.

On social media, countless stories are passed along continuously, often as a knee-jerk reaction. Before you pass something along, consider your own credibility: Make sure what you’re sharing is true. First, do your research. While you read a piece, after perhaps a couple of introductory paragraphs, you should start seeing attribution, which denotes true news. Attribution can be in the form of sources cited (actual names and titles), context (this year’s budget versus last year’s), verifiable quotes and links that lead to respectable internet sites that can back up what is being said.

Don’t simply believe everything you read. Be a fact checker, do a little digging; reading the news isn’t a passive activity but a participatory one. Why is this important? So you get real news, so you share only what is true. By doing so, you are being a good citizen. Everybody needs to be able to rely on the news, which should be comprised solely of legitimate facts.

Good citizenship and the news
As citizens of this country and consumers of the news, we have a right and a responsibility, per the First Amendment to keep news honest. It was put forth that “We are the checks-and-balances of the news. We depend on the media to be our guardian; we in turn need to be guardians of the media. The democracy depends on us. The news organizations uphold democracy.” Does one individual have any power in this regard? Yes! How?

To Do:

  • Know who is reputable, someone without their own agenda whom you can believe. Our class instructor curated her own list of seven to eight people who are in the know and checks them first thing each morning. Some of these are, as she put it, “people on the ground” who sometimes report something before it even breaks in the regular news…Wouldn’t it be great to have your own list like this? Then you would be intelligently informed as to what’s really going on, minus any reporter’s slant or bias, minus fear-mongers. You can do this: Scout around for trust-worthy journalists. Now you know how. You can (and should) be in the know.
  • Next, if you are not subscribed to any news source, find a good one and buy a paid subscription. Many seem to be under the impression the news should be free, especially in this information era. When you become a paying subscriber, you are helping uphold the First Amendment. Still, the news service is a business and it needs funds to produce the news. Just as you would expect to pay your bill at the dentist, paying for news is no different. By subscribing, you can reward the hard work countless people in the media are doing for you.
  • When is the last time you interacted with a news outlet or journalist? Perhaps you don’t realize: You have more power than you think! News providers are beholden to us to get it right. Communicate with them, be it a strong disagreement with what you’ve read or if you feel they’ve done a particularly good job presenting coverage on a story. Our class instructor assured us that editors and journalists read their mail; they want to get it right; that is their duty. Your communication with them doesn’t have to be lengthy. A simple “Thank you for taking the time to write this” can be compliment enough to keep good news coming. The more you communicate with the media, they will start to recognize your name and the more influential you will become. We live in a democracy; let’s raise our voices…so we can ultimately live in a more ideal world.


The Bennett-Curtis House: A Halloween treat

1 YES FB-HostHalloween is approaching. One suggestion for a great Halloween experience: The Bennett-Curtis House in Grant Park, Illinois, which is transformed into a spectacular haunted mansion at this time of year and includes scrumptious food and delicious concoctions!


One Friday evening, two downtown city gals, decked out in their Halloween costumes, set out on a trip to the country under the beacon of the Hunter Full Moon. It was a long drive from bustling downtown Chicago, past suburbs via the highway and a dark country road seemingly cutting through the middle of nowhere. Cook County was left behind for Kankakee County; tall buildings were replaced by far flung farmhouses.

2 YES FB-Untitled 0 00 10-08Eventually they pulled into the charming town of Grant Park, Illinois, past the small businesses, through the residential district and breathed a sigh of relief as they finally pulled up to the huge mansion that loomed before them. It had been a long trip, but all cares melted into ooh’s and ah’s as they stepped into Halloween fantasy land at The Bennett-Curtis House!

The foyer was a Halloween-lover’s delight. It was clear the decorators had gone all out to transform this beautiful Victorian home into a full-out haunted mansion. As they stood in the lobby waiting to be seated, a spooky character held them spellbound, a small ghoul strode by silently, loud rowdy folks in costumes scurried from one room to the next and a scream was heard. There was a murder mystery dinner going on in one room, and as the two summoned up the courage to delve back into the depths of the restaurant to find their hosts, people and assorted monsters dotted the tables in the dim. It was surreal for real!

3 YES FB-blue goolBack in the bar, an elegant buffet was set up, and there was a well-stocked bar with costumed folks sitting around that looked diabolical. Soon the gals were shown to a table in the “Bat Room” and greeted by a severed arm on their table.

Each enjoyed a unique pumpkin potion: One with tequila and the other with vodka. The menu was hilarious – it begged to be read aloud – and included such delicacies as “Wolfman’s Favorite,” “Swine Chops,” “Pile of Bloody Bones,” etc. Mmm! The two heroines of our story had hoped for a novel atmosphere, and this far surpassed their expectations in that even the food, every course, was perfect (and delicious).

4 YES FB-Untitled 0 00 27-05The night was topped off with a private tour through the haunted mansion – which was incredible, very creepy, by the way! – before driving off into the cool country evening, back through the Twilight Zone and once again returning safely to the big city. It was wholeheartedly agreed this had indeed been a perfect way to kick off the Halloween season!

The Bennett-Curtis House is pure class, with attention to every detail, wrapped in fantasy.

5 YES Leaving the Haunted House Restaurant 0 00 00-05Check out their newsletter for more Halloween events, including the “Spooky Booffet,” where kids eat free on Mondays with an adult purchase and a psychic luncheon. Browsing their website will wow you with the many fabulous events hosted year-round. They also serve holiday meals with all the trimmings.

Who knows: You might visit them for Halloween this year…and end up having your wedding there!